National health records network to hook up with Google, Microsoft

The federal office in charge of creating a national network of electronic health records plans to integrate the system with the health care databases that Google and Microsoft launched last year, on which individuals can store their health records, a top official with the Health and Human Services Department said.

The Office of the Coordinator of Health Information Technology plans this year to expand its Nationwide Health Information Network to also include electronic health records stored in networks operated by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and the Indian Health Service, and integrated health care systems that span numerous communities, said Charles Friedman, chief operating officer for the health information office, which is part of HHS. Friedman spoke March 26 at the Defense Health Care Information Technology Conference at Georgetown University in Washington.

The NHIN is the primary component of a project that President Bush kicked off in 2004 to create a network that eventually will integrate the electronic health records of every American. Bush set 2014 as the deadline to have the majority of the public’s electronic health records available to any doctor’s office, hospital or clinic hooked up to the network. The original architecture for the national network will be built around four multistate Regional Health Information Organizations that will share their patients’ medical data. HHS set up the four RHIOs in 2005 when it awarded contracts to Accenture, Computer Sciences Corp., IBM and Northrop Grumman.

Friedman provided few details on how the office would incorporate personal health records fromGoogle Health and other organizations developing similar applications, such as Microsoft’s HealthVault, which it launched in October. By the end of this year, HHS will have demonstrated the exchange of different kinds of health information through the network.

Last month, Google launched a pilot project with the Cleveland Clinic to provide patients the results of their doctor visits, prescriptions, tests and procedures through Google’s secure Web authentication proxy service.

Friedman did not say how his office will incorporate multicommunity integrated health care delivery systems, but plans to tie these systems into the NHIN indicate that the HHS office wants to expand the network from the state to the local level, with the network hooking up cities and towns within a state, according to an executive of a health IT vendor at the conference who declined to be identified.

Federal interfaces to the health network will be through an entity called NHIN Connect, Friedman said. NHIN Connect will be based on the National Health Information Exchange Gateway, which Harris Corp. will develop under a contract HHS awarded last week, said Lt. Col. Hon Pak, director of the advanced information technology group of the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at Fort Detrick, Md.

Pak, who serves as the Defense representative on NHIN Connect, said the network will use software developed by Defense and VA for the Bidirectional Health Information Exchange, which clinicians in both departments use to share electronic patient information, and software developed by the National Cancer Institute for its Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid. The NHIN Connect gateway integrates health care IT information from several federal agencies into the NHIN. This includes VA, Defense and the Indian Health Service as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Pak said. NHIN Connect is in an early development stage; the first multiagency planning meeting was held yesterday, he added.

The NHIN gateway will save the government significant money by correlating simple demographic information with federal programs, such as determining who is alive and who has died, said Dr. Stanley Saiki Jr., director of the Pacific Telehealth and Technology Group, a joint Defense and VA research organization funded by the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center.

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